Sociology of Punishment - Retributivism


Retributivism covers all theories that justify punishment because the offender deserves it. This is interpreted in two ways, either:

  • a person must be punished because they deserve it (deserving is a sufficient reason for punishment), or
  • a person must not be punished unless they deserve it (deserving is a necessary but not sufficient condition for punishment).

Retributive theories usually put forward that deserving is a sufficient reason for punishment.

The main strands of retributivism are:

  • Intrinsic Retribution: Offender deserves punishment because there is intrinsic good in the guilty suffering.
  • Lex Talionis: To restore the balance between offender and victim.
  • Unfair Advantage Principle: To restore the balance by the imposition of extra burdens on those who have usurped more than their fair share of benefits. (Note the focus of Lex Talionis is on what others have lost, the focus of the unfair advantage principle is on what the offender gained.)
  • Hegelian Retribution: Punishment annuls the wrong done.
  • Liability: The offender had knowledge that he would be punished if he committed the acts, and he therefore deserves punishment if he does it.
  • Social Contract Theory: We make a contract to give up certain rights in order for other rights to be protected, when we break that contract we deserve to have our rights taken away.
  • Grievance Theory: The offender has caused a grievance for the victim, and the punishment of the offender will satisfy the victim, and make up for that grievance (although proposed as a form of retribution, it is questionable as to whether it really is retributivist in principle)

The nature of desert means that the offender must be blameworthy and that an offender deserves punishment simply because he has offended, and so his punishment must relate to his wrongdoing. It can therefore be said to be backward-looking.

The theory of retributivism does propose a number of purposes of punishment: to restore the balance (whether according to Lex Talionis or the Unfair Advantage Principle), to openly and emphatically denounce crime, or to provide satisfaction. The principles of distribution can be derived from these purposes.

There are 3 main methods for deciding on punishment.

  • The first is in accordance with Lex Talionis; that punishment should be equal or equivalent to the crime.
  • The second is the culpability principle; that punishment should be in proportion to the harmfulness and blameworthiness of an offender’s actions.
  • The third is in accordance with the grievance principle; that punishment should give satisfaction equal to the grievances caused.

Read more about this topic:  Sociology Of Punishment

Other articles related to "retributivism":

Sociology Of Punishment - Retributivism - Critique of Retributivism
... Retributivism as a justification for punishment can be seen to fall under the category of a Theory of the Right rather than a Theory of the Good ...
Theories of Retributive Justice - Retributivism
... Retributivism emphasizes retribution – payback – rather than maximization of welfare ... However, it is sometimes argued that retributivism is merely revenge in disguise ...